• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

The train clacked to the line’s final stop at Sweetwater Dam, renamed “Proctor Station” for the occasion. Burros, horses, and three trailblazers called the “Annex,” awaited the celebrants. The women rode burros sidesaddle. Most of the men rode horses — including Horton, who wore a top hat while mounting his favorite white steed. Isham, who earlier had the Annex men widen the skinny path to the mountaintop — clearing it of scrub, stray boulders, and rattlesnakes — proclaimed that, “tied to their tails” the burros carried “a park, an orange grove, an observatory” to “Sammie Miguel.”

At 10:30 a.m. the group started up the trail, Mary Proctor and Isham in the lead.

Young Annex drovers Roy Roberts and Will Graham wound their way to the top in four-and-a-half hours. The rest took an extra hour, owing to burros needing “moral suasion of a vigorous nature” and an accident.

Horton hadn’t secured his saddle tightly. When his horse began to ascend a rocky pitch between Little Miguel and Mother Miguel peaks, the saddle came loose: 76-year-old Horton did a dusty tumble into a patch of poison oak. His bruises were minor, but he developed a rash. “From that time on” Horton “suffered from skin trouble, or an eczema, which gave his complexion a bright pink color.”

Since the ascent became more acute at this point, Horton, his sister Lucy, and two others decided to head back. John Thompson loaned Horton his burro, cinched up the saddle, and rode the horse to the top. The spot where he fell became known as “Horton’s Slide.”

At 2:00 p.m., after a lunch of fruit and sandwiches along the way, the party reached the top. Before them stood the flagpole, a cannon, two hot-air balloons, a picnic table, and two large canvas tents: one for men; the other, fitted out with all the latest comforts, for women.

Dressed in black, Mary Proctor raised the flag. The men, in suits, vests, and neckties, hoisted their hats.

Reverend A.B. Markle, of the Central Christian Church, spoke first. The bride and groom had failed to show, he was sorry to say, so he waxed extempore about the splendid growth of morality in the 19th century and added that “the next century will see even more wonderful developments.” All cheered.

The moment was right. The train, the mules, breathtaking views wherever one turned, Old Glory flapping in a freshening breeze: it was time for Mary Proctor to make the grand announcement.

She didn’t. Asked to speak, she declined. She was only qualified to talk about astronomy, she said.

“Speech! Speech!” the party demanded. So Mary said a few pleasant words about the occasion.

Isham, who must have hoped she’d decide at this time, jumped in. He praised the Proctor Observatory and this most marvelous of locations — and the hardihood of the party for their valiant trek (Isham’s words, Chas. W. Home wrote in a poem, “made us quite weak”). He also thanked the three Annex drovers, especially Captain Charles Fitzallen — who swore he owed his life, and a new head of hair, to Isham’s miracle waters.

Charles L. Williams recited a poem to San Miguel, “bald old peak, rock-ribb’d and bare.” Throughout, the verses assume that Mary had chosen. It concludes:

“Farewell, brave King! Thy reign is done,
Thy storied greatness just begun,
And bowed before a brother’s will,
I greet thee, brother, San Miguel.”

As evening approached, people around the county set up chairs and picnic spreads on beaches, roof- and hilltops, anticipating the fireworks display of the century.

At the summit, the party enjoyed a professionally catered dinner. As they sipped hot tea and coffee, what had been a steady breeze began to ripple the tablecloth and the womens’ floor-length dresses. When the flag stiffened to a horizontal crackle, Isham decided not to release the air balloons. He also noticed the unthinkable: contrary to the promises of “moisture-free” air on San Miguel, a giant fogbank trundled their way. Better commence the pyrotechnics before dark.

A boy named Willie launched the first rocket. It rose, caught the high wind, and nosedove down, crashing in a shambles of sparks. Smoke rose from the hillside. Then flames. The gentlemen removed their hats and coats, rolled up their sleeves, and raced to put out the brushfire before it reached the tents. According to Herbert Hensley, “They had a lively time before they got it extinguished.”

During that spell, the sun dipped behind the encroaching gloom. To the north and east the party could see moonlit campfires and celebrations with colored lights. But to the west a gray cloak not only shrouded Coronado, the city, and the South Bay, it had crept around lower San Miguel. The summit became an island in a gray, cotton sea.

From San Miguel, said the Union: “Coronado’s fireworks were only faint flashes of heat lightning.…The electric masts of the city were eight or ten bright stars near Point Loma’s revolving light, which was distinct.”

Instead of Mt. Vesuvius erupting like an irate Zeus, to anyone below, the fireworks on San Miguel resembled “a faint star-like light.”

Relentlessly chipper, Isham and the gentlemen serenaded the women before everyone turned in.

The next morning, after the party had breakfast and saluted the flag, one of the drovers noticed that a burro, christened “Little Miguel” for the occasion, was missing. During the night, the animal snuck back to Proctor Station, where it woke its keeper, asleep on a pile of straw, by pulling off his cap.

At 9:00 a.m. the party headed back down San Miguel in single file. Some of the animals liked descending even less than climbing and needed their ears rapped for inspiration. To the dismay of Isham, who’d already seen too much go wrong in his economic courtship of Mary Proctor, her burro lay down several times and wouldn’t budge.

Since “Little Miguel” had fled the night before, Mrs. C.W. Home had to ride a small, unnamed pack mule that sprinted down the mountain a half-hour ahead of the rest.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!